Rome, November 5, 2003 - As European Union (EU) and Russian leaders convene a summit meeting in Rome this week, the international humanitarian medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) calls upon the president of the European Union to press Russian President Vladimir Putin to secure the release of Arjan Erkel, the MSF volunteer abducted on August 12, 2002 in the Russian Republic of Dagestan.
At the end of July, MSF was shown proof confirming that Arjan was alive. On October 13, Igor Ivanov, Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Minister, also confirmed that Arjan was alive during an official visit to Switzerland. In addition to this, Mr. Ivanov said that Russia was doing everything possible to secure Arjan's release. Even though such statements are reassuring to Arjan's family and to MSF, the lack of resolution of the case clearly indicates that much more must be done.
"After more than 14 months of unbearable captivity for our colleague, we urgently ask all members of the European Union and especially its president, Silvio Berlusconi, to hold the Russian President Vladimir Putin accountable for securing Arjan Erkel's safe release," said Dr. Morten Rostrup, President of MSF's International Council.
Since the day of the kidnapping, the European Parliament has twice called on Russian officials to find and ensure Arjan's safe release, first in a resolution adopted in January and again in a plenary session on July 3. The European Parliament called upon "the Russian authorities to step up their efforts to find and free Arjan Erkel, the head of the MSF mission in Daghestan."
"As Arjan is a European citizen, MSF takes the opportunity today to appeal to the European Union Presidency, led by Italy until the end of the year, to follow the European Parliament's resolutions and call on Russian authorities at all levels to substantially increase their efforts to secure Arjan's safe release," added Rostrup.
Arjan Erkel is the only foreign humanitarian worker who remains in captivity in the Caucasus. His case has become a clear expression of the reduced humanitarian space in the Caucasus. This is a region that has been in conflict for more than ten years and where independent humanitarian organizations today are unable to deliver effective assistance to thousands because of enormous insecurity and instability.
In August 2003, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1502 on the safety and security of humanitarian aid workers, reiterating the responsibilities of host countries. Arjan Erkel, however, is still in captivity, and humanitarian workers in Russia's Northern Caucasus region continue to be threatened.